I have always been a firm believer in getting the horse outside of the ring either for hacking, or for strength work. This not only gives the horse an opportunity to get outside of the arena but also to vary their training routine.
I am fortunate that at the farm I train at, Red Fern Stables, we have the opportunity to hack our horses on a series of trails right out the arena door. Additionally, we also have two hills we can take the horses on.
I absolutely love taking the horses up the hills as this helps strength their hindend region (especially the gluts and stifles). It also helps teach the horse balance, not only going uphill, but as we go downhill the horse must learn to balance upright or they will end up on the ground because they lost their balance (this has never happened to me).
We have two hills on the farm. One is a shorter, steeper hill that goes into the woods. This is great not only for the strength work, but because of some of the uneven terrain (it is a dirt trail). The ground helps strengthen the tendons and ligaments in the lower leg. The other hill is the road that leads into the farm. It is longer in distance (.5 mile in each direction), and overall less steep compared to the woods hill but nonetheless and great hill to begin and/or end the ride.
Typically, I will hack the horse halfway up the hill before the ride to help loosen up its muscles and joints. If the weather is nice, I will get each horse out for a hack around the property before and after their training session, or for an easy day hack for 30-60 minutes. This serves two purposes: 1) it gives the horse a change of scenery and gets them out of the arena. 2). The purpose of the ride is for recovery and the walking around helps loosen up the joints and muscles and also helps flush the metabolic waste out of the muscles. I am able to keep all of the horses fresh and interested in their work because of this opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh air.
Recently, we experienced a severe cold spell in Seattle. Because of the freezing temperatures the footing in the arena became unrideable. Fortunately, we were able to handwalk each horse outside. With each horse we did multiple hill repeats to substitute for the daily riding they were not able to do. We did this for 5 days (My assistants and I were each hand walking 2-4 hours each day). When the warmer temperatures returned each horse rode like they hadn’t missed a beat because of the extra hill work we put into their program during the cold temperatures. Having the hill to work on made the difference.
Some nice views hacking around the property
A group of us heading up the hill
for some work
My dog “Z” leading the way
One of the views from the top
of the hill